Execution Opponents Heartened By 9 Texas Delays

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Nine Texas killers’ executions have been postponed this year, the Dallas Morning News reports. The cases raise hopes among capital punishment opponents that new and successful avenues for appeal are gaining momentum. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said that all of the cases in question involved issues of mental retardation or the age of the defendant at the time of the crime. Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project believes the recent spate of stays does not mean the end of the death penalty in Texas, but perhaps a mellowing in its application. “Clearly something is happening,” he said. “All of the polling shows the majority favors capital punishment as a concept, but there is more reservation or opposition of using it. People don’t want it applied too frequently. The courts are reflecting that.”

The Supreme Court found in 2002 that executing the mentally retarded amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. In June, the Supreme Court reversed a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying a Texas death row inmate’s claims of mental retardation were not considered. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor accused the 5th Circuit of “paying lip service to the principles” of the appellate process and not following Supreme Court guidelines. In Texas, 27 of the 456 prisoners on death row committed their crimes at the age of 17. An untold number could be considered mentally retarded. A Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman acknowledged that some inmates who do not fit the description have used the issue to their advantage. “It’s a shame because there are people who can genuinely make an argument,” Michelle Lyons said. “It’s not good when people abuse the system.”

Link: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/072004dnwebstays.7c9052d.html

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